Yup, I am alive. And I updated, sorry for taking forever! Enjoy this chapter, hopefully the next update won't be a year from now. I hope you guys like the chapter, I almost didn't post it because I don't think it's very good, but hopefully you guys like it anyway.
Chapter Six: Safe and Sound
When looking back in hindsight over the hardest things Hiccup has had to stand in his short life, losing his mother came in first. There was no getting over that kind of hurt, only learning how to move on, but having to say goodbye to his father was a close second. Even though he knew that his exile would be brief, a year thank Odin, it still felt like he was leaving, that he was going to lose his only home and was never to return.
They had sat together, as father and son the night before the announcement and ceremony his banishment would commence. A quiet reflection where both basked in the other's presence for what could be the last time; though it wasn't spoken out loud a lot could go wrong when living on your own even if for only a year. Hiccup was more confident than his father; he at least had Toothless who wouldn't leave him during his exile.
And how strange was it, to think of his looming exile and not feel apprehension? He was nervous, sure, who wouldn't be nervous about being kicked out of your clan without so much as a by-your-leave for a year on some Gods forsaken island, but the sentence didn't feel quite so oppressive anymore and this quieted his aching heart.
Stoick however, was much more of a wreck, though Hiccup was to kind to not point it out. He knew how keenly his father felt about this whole debacle, that the elder man thought it his sole fault and that he was to blame, when Hiccup assured his father it most certainly wasn't. His father had done is very best to give Hiccup every chance to set aside his… himness and become the dragon warrior that the rest of the island was known for. But Hiccup couldn't, he really just couldn't. He didn't know if his father could even understand how much it almost physically hurt to try and kill a dragon that didn't deserve it, dragons that only reacted to the aggression that was shown. It was a cycle that he hoped to break someday, and even if he couldn't break it, he could at least prove his conviction by being the first to throw down his sword.
Sitting there with his arms wrapped around his knees and listening to the crackle pop of warm fire, Hiccup felt almost relaxed. His father sat in his chair not too far away, smoking a pipe and gazing at the hearth, his eyes far away and world-weary. Hiccup felt horrible for being the reason his father had such an expression on his face.
He scooted closer to the chair until his side pressed against his father's lower legs. It was a pose he had not taken for many years, not since before his mother had passed. Leaning against his father brought back smoky memories of nights filled with quiet contentment with his father twining his thick fingers through his hair while his mother hummed or sang while she polished her and her husband's armor, or mended clothes. The feeling almost brought tears to his eyes, he had managed to keep them from falling until he hear his father sigh and felt the familiar sweep of fingers on his scalp.
His father did not look down on him when a few tears escaped. His tears were not tears at the unfairness of his leaving, but tears for his father, tears that his father would not or could not cry. Tears of time lost and tears of time that would be lost. A whole year he would not see his son, a whole year the son would not see his father. A whole year he would be gone from the village, a whole year his father would miss seeing his son grow.
And yet, after the few tears had been shed and while his father quietly strokes his head, Hiccup felt safer than he had in years. He drank in the comfort, because he didn't know when he would feel it again.
The Elder had spent the whole day preparing the ritual. It was simple enough, she had set bones, asked the Gods for their wisdom, prepared the ceremonial knife and rope. Her heart ached for having to recite the chant for banishment, and to one so young, but it was necessary and she would see her duty done.
She had lived many years, seen many generations rise and fall. Sometimes she felt as old as the ocean, though she knew with her mind that she was not, her heart felt as old as the stone that the houses of the village rested upon.
This day, villagers were expecting a good show, a show about a boy becoming a man and a function warrior of the tribe. And boy, were they ready to see that useless boy Hiccup finally live up to his expected title as the Heir of the tribe. But even as the tribe gathered eagerly for a fight, what they saw instead chilled them.
The Elder saw their gaping mouths, how their eyes had flown open wide in terror and fear. To see their diminutive Elder in her ceremonial bear and wolf furs, pale wrinkled skin streaked with red paint, and nothing else stole their breath like a thief in the night. She was the one that was there to help bring children into the world, but she was also there to help take their spirits out of it.
Smiles faded, the somber atmosphere was heavy and it raised the hair at the back of necks. Several people looked from one to another, wondering who it was that had died, or what kind of situation demanded such dressings.
She stood taller than her height should be in the arena, as every eye fell upon her, every voice quieted by the power they could feel she possessed; the elderly woman felt her age. She felt it in her bones, the way a tree could feel termites biting within. She would be passing on soon, perhaps not this year, perhaps not the next, but she knew it would be soon. And Gods she was ready, long ago, 70 years or more, she had given up her name. The thought that soon she could rest with her family brought her peace and strength. Strength to continue what was expected of her.
Still, she waited. It was not time for the ritual. When the sun was high at noon, it would be time. She was still waiting for Stoick and Hiccup to show, she couldn't even begrudge them being late if they were, it was not something she looked forward to either.
It would be noon soon enough though, and she nodded to her acolytes nearby. Two of them brought out bizarre looking flutes and began to play. The melody and pitch unnerved those watching, the high pitched notes fell softly upon their ears and dredged up emotions that were kept locked tight within their hearts. It was sad, expressive, and sounded like a song of mourning. Two more acolytes brought out drums, but the rhythm they beat was even softer than the flutes, an accent to the flutes, rising with the lilting music and not overpowering it.
The Elder began to sway, gently like the ocean tide. Her arms held low, but slowly they began to move as well. She chanted, the language speaking to their hearts, though their minds could not comprehend what she was saying. It was the language of the Gods and the spectators held their breaths as they watched the woman slowly began to dance.
Her voice was high and reedy, almost a perfect match for the flutes, and many found themselves mesmerized, unable to tear their gazes away.
So engaged in watching her dance, they did not see their Chief approach, nor did they see his heir trailing behind him. They did not see the last hug between the two, nor did they see the tender look that the father bestowed his son.
As Stoick approached the gate into the arena, he paused, unsure if he could really go through with this. His son would be exiled, unable to receive any help from him and his kin. Unable to interact with the tribe, he would be essentially dead to them. Usually exile was for forever, but not this time. Was he still expected to mourn as though he had lost a child? Odin, it would bury him, he thought, to have to go through mourning again.
Hiccup, for his part, seemed to be rather ambivalent to it all. He was thankful that his father would not be forced to kill him. Thankful that his father had made sure one of the smaller boats would bear him safely to the island. Thankful beyond measure, that he would have his faithful friend Toothless at his side. He had slipped away at dawn to see the dragon, and he was better for it. Toothless couldn't understand why they were leaving, but in his own way had made it known that he wouldn't let the hapless human go alone.
Now eyes were catching sight and even if they didn't know exactly what was going on, if it involved Hiccup, it couldn't mean anything good. Perhaps the Elder was performing his death rites for him before he fought the Nightmare? That seemed likely, as it seemed a miracle that the boy was even the one picked to fight the Nightmare.
The Elder slowed her dancing until she stopped gracefully, it was a marvel to Hiccup that she could even move in such a way for as gnarled as her body appeared to be, and he flushed when he saw her wink at him and give him a kind smile.
He braced himself as he turned to look out at the crowd, now the whole village had turned out as whisper and rumors sparked and traveled about. Curious eyes roamed over the three of them before Stoick cleared his throat and the whole attendance fell quiet.
His eyes swept over the group, meeting some eyes before he turned his eyes heavenward, 'please,' he begged to the Gods, 'please let this be the right thing to do. Though I don't deserve him, please keep my boy safe, he is special.'
"My kith and kin, we are gathered here today for a very specific reason."
Eager bodies leaned forward, anxious for the fight to be underway.
"For the last two days, the Elder has been in and out of communion with the Gods and has discovered that Hiccup has a gift, one that is powerful and good, but terrible at the same time."
This cause a few tongues to wag, eyebrows to lift as people turned to one another with questioning eyes only to be answered with shrugs. What on Earth did their leader mean?
"Over the past few weeks, Hiccup has shown incredible skills with dragons," at this the crowd cheered, elbowing one another, perhaps this was just for dramatic effect? A way to wind them up and give them a good show.
And then the hammer dropped.
"My son has informed me that in exchange for this gift, he cannot kill dragons."
Hiccup raised an eyebrow at his father, because that certainly wasn't how he remembered explaining it and he was pretty sure that wasn't how their conversation had gone. He hadn't even mentioned bread-making!
The whispers had turned into roars and confusion reigned for a good few minutes while Stoick gathered the courage and strength to continue.
"Enough!" Though he only raised his voice a little, everyone fell silent; some mouths still hung open in shock.
"My son has a gift, given to him by the gods, but he has refused to kill the Nightmare and complete his training. The punishment for that is exile," their strong leader's voice cracked and suddenly he didn't seem so very stoic at all.
Silence, even more deafening than the roars from minutes before swallowed them all, disbelief and shock warring on the faces of those that looked on. Hiccup could see the group he had been in dragon training with, most especially Astrid and his cousin Snotlout, their eyes so wide that he was worried they would fall from their sockets.
Stoick took a deep breath and pushed forward, because if he didn't finish it now, then he wasn't sure he could finish at all.
"Therefore, I will be exiling Hiccup," The whole tribe was in an uproar again, but it was unclear over what. Some were mad that he wasn't being killed for not wanting to kill dragons. Some were upset that if it was gift, why weren't they keeping him around to help with dragons, maybe lead them to where they lived. While yet even more others were just shocked because the last exile had been ages ago.
Stoick held up one hand, "I have decided he will be exiled for a year!"
More silence, before a small whisper of, "Can he do that?"
Followed by, "Well, he's the Chief isn't he?"
"Is it a punishment if he can just come back?"
"Why is he being punished at all?"
"Don't people who are exiled die?"
"There will be silence!" This came from the Elder and every tongue fell silent, even breathing halted in the presence of her ire.
"I have communed and spoken with the Gods. They have decided his sentence and it is not the place of men to pass further judgment then what the leader has seen fit to do. I agree with Stoick the Vast's decision, that is all that needs to be said."
Not one word was spoken in the wake of her speech.
She nodded, "Bring forth the rope and the dagger."
Hiccup did not tremble at her words, which surprised even himself, because let's be honest, he really wasn't the epitome of brave and courageous. He did not tremble as the thick ropes bound his wrists, nor did he flinch as she began to chant again.
Some spectators trembled in their seats, in horror and in fear, others watched with impassive expressions, neither happy nor upset by the proceedings.
"Hiccup," the Elder began, her ancient hands pressing over his bindings, "You have broken the law and have been judged, your punishment it one year in exile. You may say one last thing before I complete the ceremony."
'What do I say? What could I possibly say? Oh, hey, yeah so I'm not really special turns out dragons just like belly rubs? Or, Yeah so I'll be going now, see you all in a year, want me to pick you up some herbs while I'm out?"
He opened his mouth and all that came out was, "I'm sorry."
She nodded to him, "These ropes represent your ties to us. With this blessed dagger, I sever your bonds to this tribe. If you are still alive one year from this day, you may return with this rope and be accepted back. No further punishments will incur from this particular infraction, you will cleansed when you are welcomed back. Now go with the Gods."
She brought the dagger down swiftly and the ropes snapped apart easily. The snap felt horribly real to his body, as though she had reached into him and broken the little pieces of him that connected him to this place. It was all in his mind, maybe, he was mostly sure that it was all in his mind.
He couldn't bear not to look at his father one last time, even as women began to scream and cry in grief. Not because they particularly cared for Hiccup, but because that was what was done when a child died.
Was he really dead? He still felt alive; he still felt the rush of air in his lungs. His father met his eyes one last time, and Hiccup turned and fled, toward the forest where he had left Toothless, and from there to the boat that was moored down near the most northern beach.
Away from his home, away from his life, Hiccup ran until his very breath burned. But that was okay, it was proof he was alive. He focused on the sound of his feet hitting the ground, the rhythm of his pulse as he raced away from his past life. It wasn't a punishment, his father had said, but why did it feel like he was fleeing from one?
His father watched him run away, fists clenching in tandem with his heart. "Be safe, Vahallarama, protect our boy," he whispered to the wind. He thought he'd come to terms with this, but all he felt now was that he'd still some how had failed, both his wife and his son.
How would he fill the next year without him? To wake up and not hear him. To eat dinner by himself in a lonely house, empty save for him?
Gobber walked slowly up to his friend. There really wasn't anything that could be said, but he rested his good hand on Stoick's shoulder, "He's a strong lad Stoick..."
Gods he hoped strength would be enough.
Hiccup ran for minutes, ran until he could see Toothless up ahead roused by the sound of his ragged breathing and worry shone in the vivid green irises as the dragon sized him up. Hiccup collapsed in relief against the warm hide, tears falling and all he could do for several minutes was cling to his dragon's side.
Toothless's eyes gleamed in the gloom of the forest, his wing unfurling to wrap around his human, "There, there, you will never be alone. I'll be here."
And maybe it was crazy, but he couldn't imagine leaving this human behind. Perhaps if his tail had been whole, he would have been long gone before he'd even made contact with the human, but what could have been had no bearing on what was now. What was happening now was that the human he'd grown to care for was hurting, not from any physical wounds, but from emotional ones, ones that could not be seen with eyes, but could be felt with hearts.
Those humans, they were humans that he still believed could not be changed. Perhaps it was only by chance that he had found the only human in the world that cared enough, that could try to understand what dragons were really like. He could have done wonders for that pathetic village, and they had thrown him out.
His human had tried to help him understand, that his father did not want him to leave, that it was only a short time he'd be sent away, but that made little sense to Toothless. It sounded as though Hiccup's father had a great deal of power and if he didn't want to do something, he shouldn't. Hiccup had tried to make him understand that it wasn't so simple, but while Toothless was intelligent in many ways, he could not overcome a life of doing mostly what he wanted when he wanted, to understand that Stoick had duties to his people and not just to himself. Though, over the past few days, the idea was beginning to become more clear to the dragon, for he found himself doing plenty that he didn't want to do, it was only for a small pale human that he did them.
Reguardless, dragons were not so incredibly fickle. Hiccup would be protected and cared for. He would not starve, nor would he be without warmth. He couldn't understand why Hiccup would want to even return to the people that had just banished him, but if that was what the human whelp wanted, than Toothless would oblige, the Sky only knew why.
"Come with me, they will never hurt you again." At least not if Toothless had anything to do with it.
Nudging the human carefully, he managed to turn Hiccup toward the beach where the boy had stashed supplies (Gobber hadn't known exactly what he'd been making new daggers for but had done it without question) and his tail fin. With Hiccup in the lead, Toothless turned to follow, pausing only briefly to look around warily before he slipped away, blending in with the shadows of the woods.
End of Chapter.
Okay so yeah, you guys waited for a year and this was the best I could crank out. I hope it was cool enough and slightly worth the wait. I know Toothless didn't appear much in this, but he will in the future chapters. I'll do my best to get the next part out. I don't want Hiccup to come off as too much of a crybaby here, but I don't think a few tears after being kicked out of your home is too much. I'd like to hear opinions about where I should go from here, would you guys prefer a time skip of a few months, or would you rather have another chapter of him settling in and then a time skip? Let me know! As usual, this chapter is Unbeta'ed and I would appreciate if people would point out any obvious mistakes that I missed. Thank you so much for your continued patience.